Academic journal article Air Power History

"Always Above": Major Edward 'Mick' Mannock in World War I

Academic journal article Air Power History

"Always Above": Major Edward 'Mick' Mannock in World War I

Article excerpt

The air war over the Western Front was going badly for the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) in April 1917, when 2nd Lt. Edward Mannock arrived from England to join Number 40 Squadron. It was April 6, the same day the United States declared war on Germany, and the British Army's long awaited spring offensive, the Battle of Arras, was to begin in less than 72 hours.

Aircrew casualties were growing at an ever increasing rate, alarming the RFC's commander, Brig. Gen. Hugh Trenchard. In the first six days of the month alone, the 25 RFC squadrons along the Arras section of the front had lost 64 aircraft shot down with 42 aircrew killed, 9 wounded, and 36 more taken prisoner. (1) This after having lost 143 airmen killed or missing in March. (2) The RFC's counterpart, the Deutschen Luftstreitkrafte (German Air Force) (3) had lost only 12 aircraft during the same period, with 10 aircrew killed, two wounded and three more becoming prisoners of war. The aggressiveness of the RFC crews in accomplishing their commander's edict of maintaining offensive operations no matter the cost was displayed daily. But also on display was the fact that the Luftstreitkrafte, outnumbered in aircraft by nearly two to one, had the technological superiority with faster, better armed aircraft and a core of highly trained pilots who were led by the likes of Manfred and Lothar von Richthofen, Ernst Udet, Werner Voss, and a host of others whose sole intent was to make the RFC pay dearly for every venture into German airspace over the Arras sector.

Whether Mannock knew it or not, once he signed into his new squadron he had joined a combat unit where the life expectancy for fledgling pilots was less than three weeks of operational flying. By the spring of 1917 the attrition rate for RFC pilots was nearing 200 a month. (4) The RFC would be hard pressed to support the ground offensive but would put every aircraft at its disposal into the sky to support Field Marshall Haig's latest attempt to break the deadlock in France. Only time would tell whether or not the newest member of Number 40 Squadron would become just another statistic or survive to make an impact in the air war over the Western Front.

Edward Corringham Mannock was born on May 21, 1888 (5) to Sergeant Edward (Corringham) (6) Mannock, a Scot and Julia Sullivan, an Irish girl from Cork. There is some argument about his birthplace. The most logical location is Preston Cavalry Barracks in Brighton, England, where Sergeant Mannock was stationed between 1887 and 1888 with the 2d Dragoons, the Royal Scots Greys. However, there is evidence that Mrs. Mannock may have returned to her family home in Ballincolig, County Cork, for some of the pregnancy before giving birth there to her third child.

Mannock's youth was spent in Highgate, England, and Meerut, India, where he grew up in and around the area where his father was stationed. The family returned to England in 1902 to the Cavalry Depot in Canterbury. Young Edward had a fertile mind and loved to read any book he could get his hands on. He was very fond of his mother but distant from his often absent father. Self-conscious of the class system prevalent within the British Army and society as a whole, Mannock could not fathom the injustices that this system fostered among its own people. As he grew to manhood an intense hatred of the class system was bred within him that he would harbor his entire life. This intensity however would drive Mannock to make something of himself and at the same time he would attempt to improve the structure of a social system he believed was flawed and corrupt. (7)

He completed his elementary education at the age of 14 but any further hopes of further education were dashed by his father. Upon completion of his military service in the Boer War (1899-1902), the senior Mannock separated from the British Army and within a few months proceeded to abandon his wife and family. (8)

To assist his mother and older brother in providing for the family, young Mannock went to work delivering groceries and then served as a lather boy at a barber shop. …

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